story by Chad Blair
photo by Ann Cecil
For lack of a gentler metaphor, one could say Scot Matsuoka has knives in his blood. As a boy growing up in Koloa, Kaua‘i, Scot collected large nails which he pounded flat and then ground down to something resembling a blade. The finished product didn’t cut it (so to speak), but Scot never lost his passion for knives.
Flash forward to 1993 and a blade show in Las Vegas, where Scot approached knife-maker and Kane‘ohe resident Ken Onion about the possibility of an apprenticeship.
“Ken wasn’t famous yet, and when I told him I was from Hawai‘i, he said, ‘Sure … if you’re really serious.’ Next thing I know, I’m paying $1,600 for a Burr King belt sander.”
Before long Scot, now 55, had his own line of stainless steel blades, Koloa Duck Knives Hawai‘i. His first product line was a three-and-a-half-inch-long Pahinui (“big knife”). Now there’s also a Makani (“wind”), with a four-inch stainless steel blade that tucks into a decorated burl wood handle, and a Manu (“bird”) with an anodized titanium bolster and a hilt of curly koa. Asian themes also predominate: The titanium Mejiro is named after the small Japanese bird that’s distinguished by white rings around the eyes. The multicolor ‘Io Tanto combines the word for the Hawaiian hawk with tanto, a small samurai sword. Scot is currently offering engraved Irezumi dragon knives with the help of two other Hawai‘i locals, jeweler Norimi and tattoo designer Sado. (Yes, both are single-name artists … Versaces of the knife world, if you will.)
Asked whether he sees his work as art or craft, Scot’s answer is clear-cut: It’s both.
“They’re real knives, and when I design them, I try to make them feel comfortable in the hand—user-friendly, I guess you could say. But when I make a knife, it’s like I’m painting: I get all into it!”
Like any piece of fine art, these knives don’t come cheap: Orders take six months to a year to complete, and range from $400 to $1,500. Still, they are a long-term investment.
“I guarantee them for a lifetime,” says Scot, “as long as you don’t abuse them.”